Advice to a Would-Be Intern

A friend just told me he had a bad experience with his summer interns. He invited six college students to serve at his company between May and August. He whispered to me he wished he could have dismissed them in June.


This is sad because it is so unnecessary. I believe in the potential of today’s college students. There are millions of them who’ll be graduating over the next year and entering the workforce. Unfortunately, the adults in their lives have failed to prepare them for that world. My friend believes his interns are proof of that.

I suggested to him that he introduce the internship differently from now on. From this point on, he should let those students know:

An internship is a twelve-week interview.

It’s a simulation of the job you’ll have one day.

For us, this is a game changer. Suddenly, they realize every day is a time to observe and be observed. A time to both labor and learn. It’s not about tweeting, or posting photos on Facebook about the cool internship you landed. See it as a long interview. Or, see it as a simulator, allowing you to practice now what you’ll need later. This is the kind of perspective that leads to healthy internships.

The top qualities we look for in our interns are about attitude more than aptitude:

  1. Teachability – We want students who are hungry to learn from us.
  2. Initiative – We want students who look for what needs to be done.
  3. Responsibility – We want students who “own” the tasks they’re given.
  4. Energy – We want high-energy workers who have passion for our mission.

Certainly, we look for giftedness in them; talents that match what we need in our organization. But more than anything, these three ingredients generally lead to a positive experience for both them and for us at Growing Leaders. We just finished with our team of summer interns—and they were stellar. We loved co-laboring with every one of them. They had great attitudes. Great work ethic. Great passion for their jobs. And great hunger to grow as emerging leaders.

But we tell them: it’s a twelve-week interview.

By the way—we are now accepting applications for our Spring 2014 Internship. It begins in January and goes through May. Check out details here:


Advice to a Would-Be Intern